By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — For the second time in three weeks, a no-contact advisory has been issued for the St. Joseph River following another spill of wastewater from the Three Rivers Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency (BHSJ) announced Thursday morning that an estimated 20,000 gallons of untreated wastewater was accidentally discharged into the river on Wednesday night between 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Health officials say the cause of the discharge was the heavy rains the area faced on Wednesday, which they say “overwhelmed” pumps that directed waste to the plant. The pumps were being used as the city continues to complete repairs to the force main break which occurred earlier this month.
BHSJ is asking residents to avoid any bodily contact with the St. Joseph River from the Broadway Street Bridge to the Withers Road Bridge as a precautionary measure due to numerous infectious diseases being associated with fecal coliform. This advisory includes any type of body contact with the river for recreational activities such as tubing, kayaking, swimming, canoeing or fishing. It is also advised to keep animals out of the water. Anyone having contact with the river after 9:30 p.m. Wednesday is advised to take a shower and wash any clothing that was in contact with the river. Pets should also be bathed if they were in contact with the water.
The advisory is in effect until water samples from the river have been analyzed and demonstrate that coliform levels are back at normally expected amounts.
This is the second time in July that a no-contact order has been issued for a portion of the St. Joseph River. On July 10, a no-contact advisory was issued after 500,000 gallons of wastewater spilled into the river due to a force main break that happened the previous Friday at the Constantine Street Lift Station, at the intersection of Constantine Street and Broadway Street. A temporary bypass is still in place across Constantine Street south of Broadway Street due to that spill.
During that spill, WWTP Superintendent Taylor Davis came under fire for not reporting the spill in a timely manner to BHSJ per legal requirements. BHSJ officials said he would not face discipline, and would conduct additional training with him to prevent issues like that happening again in the future.
Davis apologized for the July 7 spill at the July 18 Three Rivers City Commission meeting, saying his relative inexperience with those kind of spills “wasn’t an excuse” to not contact the health department sooner. He added that he didn’t expect the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to levy any fines for that incident.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.